Authors: Justin Hunter - (ebook by Undead)
This is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of
sorcery. It is an age of battle and death, and of the world’s ending. Amidst all
of the fire, flame and fury it is a time, too, of mighty heroes, of bold deeds
and great courage.
At the heart of the Old World sprawls the Empire, the largest
and most powerful of the human realms. Known for its engineers, sorcerers,
traders and soldiers, it is a land of great mountains, mighty rivers, dark
forests and vast cities. And from his throne in Altdorf reigns the Emperor
Karl-Franz, sacred descendant of the founder of these lands, Sigmar, and wielder
of his magical warhammer.
But these are far from civilised times. Across the length and
breadth of the Old World, from the knightly palaces of Bretonnia to ice-bound
Kislev in the far north, come rumblings of war. In the towering World’s Edge
Mountains, the orc tribes are gathering for another assault. Bandits and
renegades harry the wild southern lands of the Border Princes. There are rumours
of rat-things, the skaven, emerging from the sewers and swamps across the land.
And from the northern wildernesses there is the ever-present threat of Chaos, of
daemons and beastmen corrupted by the foul powers of the Dark Gods. As the time
of battle draws ever near, the Empire needs heroes like never before.
White banners of mist hung around the clearing. The thick
frost gave each blade of grass a cruel edge, the tree-line was as dark and
impenetrable as a shield wall. In the centre of the clearing a gruesome splinter
of black rock stood at a crooked angle. From niches carved into it, the eyeless
sockets of skulls stared out and crude totems hung limp in the freezing air.
With their backs to the stone, the last of the beastmen herds stood close
together, their breath misting the chill air, their furred fingers clamped on
the shafts of their spears.
They were surrounded.
From the still banners, all the tribes of Sigmar’s new Empire
were represented: mail-clad chieftains with their jostling warbands behind them.
Despite the cold many warriors were naked, their pale skin inscribed with
swirling blue tattoos. A few gnashed their teeth, the frenzy of battle
From the Imperial ranks one man stepped forward. His white
beard hung nearly to his waist, but there was nothing frail about the way Johann
Helmstrum, first Grand Theogonist, raised his mailed fist and pointed towards
the hated foe.
Sigmar had been gone for ten years, but the furnace of his
passions still glowed in men like Johann. From Sigmar’s own tribe of the
Unberogens, he had followed Sigmar until his disappearance—and like others of
the man-god’s warband, he now led armies of his own to destroy beasts like
For too long had people lived under the threat of death. For
too long had nightmare beasts haunted the night. For too long had the people
along the Stir River been prey to the occult rituals of these creatures, foul
amalgams of man and beast.
Hefting his dented warhammer, Foe-crusher, Johann picked out
the largest beastman and fixed him with a merciless stare: warlord to warlord.
“In the name of Sigmar,” his voice carried across the clearing, gathering power
as he spoke, echoing over the ranks of warriors. “I claim these lands for man.
Your kind has no right to laws or life. I hereby pronounce your execution.”
The Unberogens beat their spears and sword-hilts against
their shields. The beastmen shuffled uncomfortably; even their leader, eight
foot of rippling muscle, bowed his horned head.
Johann Helstrum lifted his warhammer again and turned back to
his men. “For Sigmar!” he roared and led the charge.
The clash of armies was like two waves breaking upon each
other. Through months of battle and slaughter, the beastmen had been harried and
hunted to the very edge of their tribal lands, and now with their backs to the
mighty River Stir, they had nowhere left to flee. It was around the last of
their herdstones that they fought, and the arcane monolith, of a stone known to
no man, gave them renewed strength and resolve.
They fought with all the ferocity of trapped animals. Three
times the men of the Empire were thrown back, but each time the white-bearded
figure of Johann Helmstrum led them back into the charge, and as close around
him as a mailed fist went the men of his bodyguard, led by Ortulf Jorge and his
It was mid-morning when the men fell back in confusion for a
fourth time. There were heaps of dead on both sides, but a knot of a hundred
monstrous beastmen survived: berserk with blood-lust, their snouts stained red,
their weapons dripping blood.
Men collapsed from exhaustion and the sight of the enraged
beasts was enough to make the bravest man falter, but Johann’s encouragement
sent the fire of Sigmar from man to man, and gave them the energy for one last
fight. One last charge would surely break them.
The old man’s warhammer cut a swathe through the beastmen. He
wielded the warhammer as if it weighed no more than a hatchet, and with his
bodyguard round him he cut a path right to the base of the herdstone, where
goat-horned shamans still desperately prayed to their capricious gods.
The closer they came to the monolith, the more the men could
feel its evil. It pulsed at the priest’s approach, made the arms of his
bodyguard heavy and leaden. Ortulf found that simply raising his weapon to parry
was a terrible effort; Vranulf was almost run through as he struggled in mortal
Only Johann seemed immune to the arcane power of the stone.
He killed both shamans and splattered the herdstone with the remains of their
horned skulls. With their death, the beastmen’s spirit seemed to waver—but the
wargor let out a huge bellow, like an enraged bull, and charged through the
battle. Ortulf and two other bodyguards stood firm, but the aura from the
monolith made their legs and arms shake with the effort. The beastman shrugged
off their sword and spear thrusts, battering them aside as if they were sticks.
He cut Vranulf down and reared up over the venerable warrior, knocking
Foe-smiter from his hands.
Ortulf shouted out as he saw his brother cut down, struggled
to get back to his feet. As the wargor raised his axe Ortulf tried to pick up
his sword, but it slipped from his fingers.
“Sigmar!” the Grand Theogonist shouted and drew his sword,
but his voice was weak and the beastman batted the blade away as if it were a
The wargor had dragged the old man to the herdstone. He took
a handful of beard and pulled his head back, exposing his throat. The monolith
hummed with pleasure as the knife was raised.
“Sigmar…” Ortulf prayed, and just the name gave him
strength enough to stand. He dropped his shield, picked up his brother’s spear
from the bloody grass, and staggered towards the wargor. The pain in his head
was like hammer blows. Ortulf saw the raised dagger and thrust with all his
remaining strength. The spear head went in next to the creature’s spine and up
under its ribcage. The wargor let out a bellow of pain, but instead of falling
it turned and Ortulf realised he was defenceless. His fingers grasped for a
weapon or shield—but his hands were slippery with blood and sweat and could
find no purchase. The wargor picked him up and threw him aside. Ortulf’s body hit
the monolith with a sickening crunch. But in that brief moment of respite,
Johann Helmstrum’s fingers found the haft of his warhammer. He had fought a
hundred campaigns against the enemies of humankind. It was not his fate to die
here. The face of Sigmar came to him, whispering quiet words of encouragement,
and gave him the strength he needed to raise his warhammer one final time.
Johann Helmstrum swung Foe-smiter down, and buried the blunt
head deep into the wounded beastman’s skull, between its curled horns.
The monster staggered and raised its axe once more, but sank
slowly to its knees, and fell face down at the Grand Theogonist’s feet.
* * *
With their shamans and leaders slain, the last of the herds
were quickly routed and hunted down, Johann Helstrum had men loop ropes around
the vile stone and tear it from the ground, roots and all. They built a great
pile of wood over the thing and set fire to it, and when the fire at its hottest
and the stone was glowing a dull red, they carried freezing water from the Stir
River and drenched it. Steam filled the clearing for a whole day, and when it
cleared they saw the stone had shattered into a thousand pieces.
Johann led them all in prayers to Sigmar, and then he
declared the land to be free of the enemies of man.
When the dead had been buried and the wounded tended, the
Grand Theogonist’s army struck camp. The people watched them leave, astonished
to find that the woods and hills were clear of enemies. In the crowd that
watched them leave was Griselda Jorge, young widow of Ortulf. She let her tears
flow, reliving the moment she and the other women had hurried through the piles
of dead and dying to find her lover: crushed at the foot of the herdstone. But
where that accursed monolith had once stood was now a high burial mound, where
her husband’s and her brother’s broken bodies had been laid: their weapons at
their sides and the heads of their enemies piled about them. Griselda sat there
until evening, watching the shadows grow, her cloak tight around her, pressing
their son to her chest.
“Your husband was a brave and honourable man,” the Grand
Theogonist had told her, and she repeated his words to her son, over and over.
“Your father killed many of the enemy. He was a brave and proud and honourable
warrior.” But inside she cursed his bravery and his pride and the honour that
had left her widowed and her son fatherless.
At last one of the local women came out to her. The woman
patted her hand. “Your husband is with Sigmar now,” she said and Griselda nodded
and wiped away her tears. He would be happy here, she thought and let the old
woman lead her back to the new village they had founded, named in honour, not of
her dead husband, but of the Grand Theogonist: Helmstrumburg.
Vasir crouched low and blended into the patch of ferns. A
twig snapped underfoot. The trapper cursed silently, but the mistake was
momentary. He kept breathing slowly, stayed perfectly still—and his quarry
relaxed and renewed chewing.
Taal’s bones! This one would get him a good price.
Vasir fitted the arrow to his bow. Another sip of water,
that’s it, Vasir smiled. And have something to eat, why don’t you? He pulled the
bow taut, let his breath out and then loosed the arrow which flashed briefly in
the sun-dappled green.
The beast dashed off into the undergrowth, and Vasir leaped
up after it, crashing through the undergrowth and the snapping branches. He
found the stag, twenty yards off, lying on the ground, flanks heaving, the arrow
embedded deep into its side. The fletching had broken off in the chase, there
was no way to pull it out. Vasir drew his knife. The stag tried to struggle to
its feet again—but its legs flailed weakly on thin air. The creature coughed
and red foam began to bubble from its open snout.
Vasir said a prayer to Taal, then put the blade against its
throat and opened up the artery with a deft nick.
After skinning and gutting the deer Vasir hiked up to the
crag called the Watching Post and washed a skin in the cold melt-water stream,
then laid it out on a rock to dry. From this rocky outcrop, on the shoulder of
The Old Bald Man, he could look down the town of Helmstrumburg.